Service Projects: Reduce Ministry Risk

Providing assistance to those in need through property maintenance, repairing homes, or other service projects can be an effective way to share God’s love. Before beginning such a service project, ministry leaders should discuss risk management issues to help ensure that the project is completed safely and effectively.

Selecting a Project

To begin, ministry leaders should select a specific project that their ministry team will complete. While this may seem simple and straightforward, you should consider the scope and extent of all aspects of work that needs to be performed to complete any potential project.

  • If the work includes hazardous activities or involve work that may create an unreasonable risk of injury or damage if performed improperly, refer the project to professional contractors. Setting trusses, roofing tasks, and complex construction jobs are examples of these types of projects.
  • Ministry leaders also should consider the age and capabilities of its volunteers when selecting a project. For example, projects that require the use of saws or dangerous power tools are likely unsuitable for a youth group.

Appoint a Project Coordinator to Organized Project Details

When you have identified a project, it’s time to appoint a project coordinator to organize the details of the project.

  • A detail-oriented person who understands the scope and requirements of the project will be well suited to serve in this role.
  • If a qualified coordinator isn’t available, ministry leaders might consider partnering with another ministry or not-for-profit organization that has experience performing the type of project your ministry plans to undertake.

Once selected, a project coordinator will likely need to divide the entire project into distinct “jobs.” If the ministry will be helping restore a home that has been damaged by weather, for example, some of the jobs might include: removing damaged materials, cutting boards to be used in the repairs, and painting. By dividing a project into specific jobs, it’s easier for the project coordinator to assign individuals who have the appropriate skills and abilities to complete them.

Creating a skills assessment that includes a list of possible skills for which the volunteer indicates his or her proficiency will help determine individual skill sets.

When the project coordinator has identified qualified volunteers, he/she should conduct a safety and training session before the service project date. Such a training session can help volunteers become familiar with the tasks involved with the project, how to properly use safety equipment and tools, and ways to avoid injury to themselves and bystanders.

Assess and Avoid Liability Exposures

Several common exposures can create liability risks for a ministry involved in service projects. Ministry leaders should discuss these risks beforehand and be on guard for them during the project.

Risk #1: Liability. A prime exposure involves damaging the service recipient’s home or personal property. While this can occur simply if a volunteer becomes careless, property damage is likely to increase as the technical nature of the project increases. For example, if any part of the project includes a “professional” task, such as electrical or plumbing work, ministry leaders should be sure that at least one volunteer is properly licensed and has sufficient experience to complete the task. This volunteer also should carry appropriate professional liability insurance.

Risk #2: Injury. Another key exposure is bodily injury to volunteers and bystanders. To help reduce the risk of injury to volunteers, ensure that they are working with proper safety equipment, such as gloves and goggles. Volunteers also should be familiar with any tools they will be using to complete the project and avoid dangerous working practices, like using unsupported ladders.

Injury to a bystander often results when an individual is unaware of the danger presented by the work. To help protect bystanders, volunteers should secure the work area. This can be accomplished by roping off the perimeter of the site with caution tape. Supplies, equipment, or anything that could create a tripping hazard, such as extension cords, should also be kept out of main walkways.

Agreements Help Protect a Ministry’s Liability 

Even with the best safety procedures in place, injuries and damages can still occur. Requiring volunteers to sign an activity participation agreement also will reduce a ministry’s liability risk. Such an agreement should describe the risks involved in a service project and allow volunteers to acknowledge and accept those risks.

In addition, ministry leaders can reduce any risks related to the property owner by requiring him or her to sign a service project agreement. Similar to the activity participation agreement, a service project agreement describes the risks of the project and asks the service recipient to “release, hold harmless, and indemnify” the ministry from any injuries or damages related to the services that the ministry provides. A service agreement also should provide notice that the ministry makes no type of guarantee for the work it performs.

Always consult a local attorney to help you modify these agreements to ensure that they comply with applicable law in the community in which you live.

Insurance Considerations

Ministry leaders should ensure that the ministry has appropriate insurance coverage in place before beginning the service project.

Rent/Borrow Equipment. If the ministry is planning to rent or borrow equipment or tools for a project, ministry leaders should be aware that many insurance policies will not cover rented or borrowed property. Usually, additional coverage for these types of property is available. The ministry’s insurance agent can help determine if any additional coverage is needed.

Transportation. If the ministry provides transportation for volunteers, the ministry should have insurance with sufficient limits for vehicles owned by the ministry as well as coverage for non-owned vehicles that the ministry borrows for transportation to and from the project.

Volunteer Coverage. Volunteers should be aware that they may be covered on an excess basis under the ministry’s liability policy. This simply means that if other insurance applies to the claim, such as the volunteer’s homeowner’s insurance, that policy would apply first and the ministry’s excess policy would cover the amount that exceeds the limits of the volunteer’s policy.

Careful planning and preparation with these points can make a ministry service project a blessing for those in need and a fond memory for your ministry’s volunteers.